The future of NIR in the animal feed business

Animal Nutrition Views

Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., gives his views on poultry, pig and dairy nutrition based on his experience as a nutrition consultant with clients around the world.

The future of NIR in the animal feed business

Courtesy Cargill Animal Nutrition

A very sobering discussion of the virtues and hurdles of NIR, as applied today and in the future, for the manufacturing of animal feeds.

Last week, I participated in the first virtual event of the Poultry Science Association’s annual meeting. I hope they get to keep this format for years to come because it is convenient, so much less expensive, and equally educating to attend – at least for those of us not in the U.S.

A fascinating discussion occurred at the informal nutrition conference, where the virtues and hurdles of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) were examined. As we know, NIR has been well established in the animal feed industry as a rapid tool in nutrient analysis for incoming raw materials and outgoing complete (mixed) products.

The speakers focused first on the issue of quality data generated by NIR; in essence, the adage of “garbage in, garbage out” still holds. In other words, the technology itself is not enough to make a difference unless quality control is ensured in every step of the process.

What was even more impressive was the realization, after so many years of experience, that the data generated by NIR have two unique properties that need to be addressed immediately. First, they are more in volume than what we were used to handling before. With thousands upon thousands of data points, we now need new informatics applied before we can draw meaningful conclusions. The second realization is that data and results are not the answer to a problem. We still need to interpret these results and act upon them if we want to improve the manufacturing of animal feeds and reduce relevant cost or any other parameter of interest.

With NIR, the future holds many surprises in new developments, not only with inline systems that can provide formulation feedback in real time but also with handheld devices that can be used in the field to check nutrient levels of raw materials in farms. As a take-home message, NIR is just another tool. How we end up taking advantage of it is not something that is included in the wrapping.